SEC: Missouri Tigers

Best of the visits: SEC

February, 1, 2015
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It is down to the final weekend before national signing day, and there were some very important visitors over the weekend. Some were official visits, some were unofficial, and some were from top juniors around the country. Recruits from all over the SEC shared there thoughts on social media through tweets or Instagram photos. Here’s a look at the best social media posts from the weekend.

Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson posted an Instagram video of Mike the Tiger while on his official visit to LSU this weekend. Jefferson is set to make his decision on Wednesday and it's down to LSU, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and FSU.

 

Arizona State athlete commit Jaason Lewis posed for a photo while on his official visit to Ole Miss this weekend.

 

Four-star offensive guard Quarvez Boulware posted three photos while on his Florida visit this weekend. One of the photos included all of the official visitors Florida brought in over the weekend.

 

Mississippi State safety commit Jamal Peters posed for a photo with one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC this past season, Dak Prescott. There were rumors Peters might visit LSU this weekend, which had Mississippi State fans worried. But the No 2-ranked safety visited the team he has been committed to for a while, and it appears he will stick with his pledge on signing day.

 

ESPN 300 offensive tackle and Ole Miss commit Drew Richmond posted this photo when he arrived for his scheduled official visit to Tennessee this weekend. The Rebels are obviously hoping to hold on to the four-star prospect commitment, while the Vols are doing everything they can to flip the talented lineman.

 

Two ESPN Junior 300 prospects Derrick Brown and Kaden Smith posed for a photo during Alabama’s big junior day on Saturday.

 

Florida had commitment visits on Saturday from three-star offensive linemen Richerd Desir-Jones and Fredrick Johnson.

 

Recent Iowa State defensive tackle commit Josh Coleman took an official visit to Missouri this weekend.

 

ESPN Junior 300 running back C.J. Freeman and 2016 wide receiver Tyrek Tisdale pose for a photo while on an unofficial visit to South Carolina for the Gamecocks junior day.

 

SEC morning links

January, 30, 2015
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1. With less than a week remaining until national signing day, the recruiting drama is hot and heavy. Some of the potential signing day drama involving one SEC team was removed late Thursday night when ESPN 300 quarterback Kyler Murray affirmed his commitment to Texas A&M. Murray, a five-star quarterback prospect who is the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the country and the 13th-ranked player overall, originally committed to the Aggies in May but flirted with Texas recently, taking a visit to Austin last week. That sparked some intrigue and uncertainty about the strength of his pledge to the Aggies, who are thin at quarterback with freshman Kyle Allen and former walk-on Conner McQueen being the only scholarship quarterbacks on the current roster. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and Jake Spavital made an in-home visit to Murray on Thursday, who assured the Aggies that he'll sign with them on Wednesday and canceled his scheduled in-home visit with Texas' Charlie Strong on Friday. There was so much buzz around Murray not only because of how highly rated he is but how accomplished a quarterback he is, recording a 43-0 record as a starter and leading Allen High School to three consecutive state championships in Texas high school football's highest classification.

2. The biggest news of the day came out of Missouri, where athletic director Mike Alden announced that he will step down from his post effective Aug. 31. Alden, Mizzou's athletic director since 1998, said "it's time for a change" and he'll be joining the school's College of Education as an instructor. The Tigers accomplished quite a bit under his watch and he oversaw the move to the SEC, where Missouri has won two SEC East titles in football. There were renovations to Faurot Field and a new football complex is scheduled for construction. Mizzou Arena was also among the facilities built under Alden's watch. Football success is usually tied to an AD's legacy and because of that, chances are Alden's will be thought of favorably.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

Brandon Martin surprised observers by coming out of nowhere to become one of the nation’s most highly-coveted prospects. He also surprised many when he made a commitment to Missouri last weekend. However, Martin showed us with his latest move, the surprises aren’t over yet.

Missouri’s 11-3 season with an SEC East Division title and a bowl win meant there were plenty of good performances across the board. But there are still areas that could use improvement heading into 2015 and we look at one of them today:

Position to improve: Quarterback.

Why it was a problem: Missouri ranked 10th in the SEC in passing yards per game and 13th in yards per attempt. Against SEC competition (including the SEC title game), Maty Mauk completed only 48.9 percent of his passes and threw nine touchdowns to seven interceptions in those nine games. The Tigers want to take the next step from SEC East Division champions to SEC champions, and improved play at quarterback has to be part of that equation. Mauk is a playmaker who can make great throws, improvise with his feet and produce highlight-worthy plays, but more consistency is needed from him if the Tigers are going to move into elite status.

How it can be fixed: Gary Pinkel voiced confidence in Mauk, even during his struggles, saying, “He’s our guy” in the aftermath of the Tigers’ 34-0 loss to Georgia in October. The Tigers then reeled off six straight wins. It stands to reason that, barring unforeseen circumstances, Mauk will remain Mizzou’s guy heading into his junior season. So it’s on Mauk simply to play better in 2015. The Tigers are 14-4 when Mauk starts, so despite some shaky play at times, Missouri has still been successful with Mauk behind center. Backup quarterback Eddie Printz, a redshirt freshman last season, attempted only one pass in three appearances in 2014. Corbin Berkstresser, the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, will be a senior this fall. The Tigers are bringing in a highly touted prospect at the position, ESPN 300 quarterback Drew Lock, a four-star prospect who is the No. 107 overall player nationally and the sixth-ranked pocket passer. Lock, an in-state prospect from Lee’s Summit High, is a nice acquisition, but this will still be Mauk’s team going into 2015.

Early 2015 outlook: With an offseason to improve and 18 starts under his belt, next season has some potential for Mauk. Can he improve his completion percentage and lower his interception total? If he can without taking away from his improvisational ability and style that makes him compelling to watch, it would be huge for the Tigers’ offense. Missouri says goodbye to its three leading receivers from 2014 – Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White – who were all seniors. Mauk has to quickly establish a rapport with the new crop of pass catchers, if he can, it bodes well for the Tigers. Moments like this one and the way he finished the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl win over Minnesota provide optimism. If Mauk can play that way more consistently, the Tigers will be in good shape.

Season report card: Missouri Tigers

January, 27, 2015
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An SEC East championship, a win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl and double-digit wins add up to a good season in Columbia, Missouri. Let’s grade how the Tigers did in 2014:

[+] EnlargeShane Ray
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsRush end Shane Ray led a defense that propelled Missouri back to the SEC title game.
Offense: C-. The Tigers didn’t exactly light it up offensively. Missouri finished 70th in the country in points per game (27.8), 95th in yards per game (367) and 80th in yards per play (5.39). Quarterback play was often inconsistent, but the running game – powered by Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy – was the strength, where Missouri averaged 177.86 rushing yards per game. The Tigers were solid on third downs, converting 42.9 percent of their chances. There were six games that the Tigers gained 322 yards or fewer, which in the current era is subpar.

Defense: A-. This is where Missouri shined this season and is probably the biggest reason the Tigers returned to the SEC title game. Mizzou ranked in the top 27 nationally in scoring defense (21.1), yards allowed per game (346.6), rushing (133.86) and pass yards per attempt (6.3). The Tigers were tops in the SEC in sacks (44) and sack percentage (8.5 percent) and boasted one of the nation’s best pass-rushing duos, Shane Ray (14.5 sacks) and Markus Golden (10 sacks).

Special teams: B. Missouri’s return game, led by the dynamic Murphy, was excellent. Murphy averaged 29.6 yards per kickoff return and had two touchdowns and averaged 10.4 yards per punt return and another touchdown. As a team, Missouri was No. 8 nationally in kickoff return average (24.65) and 25th in punt return average (10.4). Placekicking could’ve been better (Andrew Baggett was 18-of-25 on field goals and 43-of-45 on PATs) and kickoff coverage was near the bottom nationally, as the Tigers allowed 24.85 yards per kickoff return (116th nationally).

Coaching: A. This was a team most observers left for dead after losses to Indiana and Georgia in September and October, respectively. All Gary Pinkel and Co. did was focus the Tigers enough to reel off six straight wins to clinch the Tigers’ second consecutive SEC East title, despite an offense that didn’t always click. Perhaps the best endorsement of the job the coaching staff did is Missouri’s continued road success: The Tigers were perfect in true road games this season for the second straight year.

Overall: A-minus. An 11-3 season with a divisional title and a bowl win is a good one any way you slice it. The only thingsthat can bump up the grade is for the Tigers to avoid ugly losses like the ones they took early and getting over the hump and actually winning the SEC, which is certainly on the Tigers’ to-do list. That will take some gradual improvement but so far Missouri has two SEC East titles, two more than anyone outside Missouri expected three years into SEC membership.

SEC morning links

January, 27, 2015
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1. There will be six new offensive coordinators in the SEC next season. Five have already been hired while Tennessee is still looking to find a replacement for Mike Bajakian. So far, it’s a diverse group -- different ages, different backgrounds, etc. Brian Schottenheimer (Georgia) came from the NFL; Dan Enos (Arkansas) was a college head coach; and the others took the more traditional route, moving up and accepting the same position at their new school. The AJC breaks down the five new coordinators and gives you a chance to vote on which one you think was the best hire. To me, Schottenheimer is the easy choice given his background, but I also think the Enos hire was an underrated one for Bret Bielema and the Razorbacks. He brings expertise at the quarterback position and could do wonders for Brandon Allen.

2. Speaking of coaching changes, Alabama announced two new hires to the defensive staff on Monday. First, Tosh Lupoi was promoted from within to become the new outside linebackers coach, filling the void left by Lance Thompson. The former Pac-12 assistant coach spent last season as an analyst for the Crimson Tide. Then, maybe two hours later, multiple reports indicated that former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker would join Alabama’s staff as the defensive backs coach. The addition of Tucker, who has spent the last 10 seasons in the NFL, means that defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will go back to coaching the inside linebackers. Both new coaches should provide a boost on the recruiting trail.

3. The other big coaching news in the SEC on Monday wasn’t who was leaving, but rather who was staying. Late Sunday night, it looked like Missouri defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski was leaving for Illinois. On Monday, he had a change of heart. That’s significant news for the Tigers considering the success of their defensive line in recent years. The players like to call it “D-Line Zou,” but with names like Aldon Smith, Sheldon Richardson, Michael Sam and this year’s stars Shane Ray and Markus Golden, the more appropriate name is “D-Line U.” The news of Kuligowski staying should also help Missouri’s chances with five-star defensive end Terry Beckner Jr., who is scheduled to visit Columbia this weekend.

Around the SEC
Tweet of the day

SEC morning links

January, 26, 2015
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1. Let’s start with the big news this weekend. Lane Kiffin is staying on as offensive coordinator at Alabama. Despite interest from the NFL, specifically the San Francisco 49ers, Kiffin will return to Tuscaloosa for a second season. That’s good news for everybody at Alabama -- Nick Saban, the quarterbacks battling to replace Blake Sims and of course, the fans. College football fans in general should be excited to see Kiffin go up against new Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp in next year’s Iron Bowl. It will probably only happen once, so get your popcorn ready. The question now will be whether Kiffin parlays another year with the Crimson Tide into a head coaching gig at the college level. Nothing would surprise me at this point.

2. Speaking of Sims, he was among the SEC contingent in Saturday’s Senior Bowl. And no, he didn’t have his best day through the air, going 4-of-11 for 50 yards, but he did show off his athleticism with 23 yards on three carries. It begs the question; does Sims have a future in the NFL as a quarterback? Fellow SEC signal caller Nick Marshall has already moved on from the idea of playing quarterback at the next level. The former Auburn star played cornerback all week and finished with five tackles in Saturday’s game. The transition didn’t come without some hiccups along the way, but many expect Marshall to be playing on Sundays next fall. After all, he did begin his career as a defensive back at Georgia.

3. Who says Missouri can’t recruit? The Tigers saw an uptick in that department when they joined the SEC and now they’re reaping the benefits from playing in back-to-back conference championship games. Over the weekend, Missouri hosted a handful of official visitors and landed two commitments, one from ESPN 300 wide receiver Brandon Martin and the other from three-star defensive tackle Tyrell Martin. The Tigers have now landed six pledges in the last six weeks and with 19 commitments in all, their class ranks just outside the top 25 on ESPN. The big name still on the board is five-star defensive end Terry Beckner Jr., who is scheduled to visit Missouri next weekend. A commitment from him could give the Tigers a top 20 class.

Around the SEC

Leonard Fournette’s younger brother, Lanard, will join him at LSU next fall.

Best pitch ever? Ole Miss makes jersey cakes for visiting recruits over the weekend.

Steve Spurrier promises a faster, tougher South Carolina team. “We’re going to do better.”

Butch Jones: Vols to “enhance,” not “overhaul” offense with new coordinator.

Tweet of the day

video
Under Armour All-American wide receiver Brandon Martin, arguably 2015's biggest sleeper, has committed to Missouri. Here's a look at what type of ability is headed to Columbia:


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Best of the visits: SEC

January, 25, 2015
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This is the second to last weekend before signing day and there was a ton of big visitors around the Southeastern Conference. Here is a closer look at some of the top social media posts by prospects who visited SEC schools over the weekend.

Three-star defensive tackle Tyrell Jacobs gave his verbal commitment to Missouri over the weekend. He tweeted out a few photos of himself posing in a Missouri game jersey.

Georgia safety Rashad Roundtree posted a photo of himself and Georgia head coach Mark Richt during his visit to Athens over the weekend.

Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson and ESPN 300 outside linebacker Jeffery Holland took a visit to Ole Miss over the weekend and tweeted out a photo.

ESPN 300 wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge tweeted out a photo of one of the most impressive cakes you will ever see. Lodge took a visit to Ole Miss and had this impressive culinary masterpiece waiting for him upon his arrival.

Auburn linebacker commit Richard McBryde posted a photo of himself with head coach Gus Malzhan and another two photos of himself with new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.

Georgia athlete commit Terry Godwin posed a for a picture with his family during his Alabama visit.

Miami running back commit Jordan Scarlett and uncommitted running back Jordan Cronkite both visited Florida this weekend and posed together for a photo in Florida's locker room.

Five-star defensive back Iman Marshall tweeted a photo of himself and LSU defensive line coach Ed Orgeron during his visit to LSU over the weekend.

South Carolina commit Jalen Christian tweeted a photo of himself and head coach Steve Spurrier during his visit to Columbia.

ESPN 300 wide receiver Brandon Martin confused some people on Saturday when he tweeted that he was not committed to Missouri despite several reports. He quickly corrected the tweet and meant to say "I am now committed to Missouri." The error gave Missouri fans a scare for a few minutes.

Miami running back commit Mark Walton had maybe the most interesting wardrobe on his weekend visit to Georgia.

































Season's best SEC players: Nos. 1-5

January, 23, 2015
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We've reached the end of the line in this week's SEC player ranker. Today we recap the conference's top five players from the 2014 season:

1. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
He was already a star, but Cooper shot into the stratosphere during an incredible 2014, smashing the SEC's single-season receptions record with 124 catches. Cooper won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top wide receiver -- the first Alabama player to win the award -- and was a Heisman Trophy finalist while totaling 1,727 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. He entered the NFL draft after that standout junior season and figures to be selected early in the first round.

2. Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Ray needed just one season as a starter to prove he has legitimate NFL star potential. Ray's blazing speed off the edge helped him emerge as one of the nation's top pass-rushers, and his 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss only back up that notion. Ray led the SEC in both of those statistical categories en route to SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, and he looks like a surefire bet to become a first-round NFL draft pick in a couple of months.

3. Landon Collins, S, Alabama
Another player who made the most of his first season as a full-time starter, Collins was easily one of the top defensive backs in the SEC. He led Alabama's defense with 103 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions, becoming a unanimous All-American in the process. Once Collins decided to enter the draft after his strong junior season, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both listed him as the top safety prospect and in the top 10 overall.

4. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
Prescott was once thought of as the possible Heisman front-runner, but his star faded down the stretch as the Bulldogs lost three of their last four games. With the SEC's most dynamic dual-threat quarterback returning for 2015, Mississippi State's offense will once again cause opposing defensive coordinators to lose sleep. It's awfully difficult to prepare for a player like Prescott, who can not only run (986 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in 2014) but can also be an effective passer, as his 3,449 passing yards and 27 touchdown throws prove.

5. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
The other names in the top five were not big surprises, but if you had told a Georgia fan before the season that Chubb -- not Todd Gurley -- would occupy this spot, they would have certainly been shocked. This was supposed to be a season when Chubb and Sony Michel learned on the job behind the nation's best running back, but Gurley's off-the-field issues (and later, injury) thrust Chubb into the spotlight. Wow, did he ever respond. Chubb registered 30-plus carries in each of his first two starts (road wins over Missouri and Arkansas) and was nearly unstoppable in the second half of the season. He rushed for at least 100 yards in all eight games after entering the starting lineup and capped an unbelievable freshman season by rushing for 266 and two scores in a bowl win against Louisville.
The SEC took some flak in 2014 for not having enough elite quarterback play.

Expect some of that flak to return this season, as the SEC once again deals with a handful of young and relatively inexperienced quarterbacks running amok through the league. Seven of the top 14 SEC passers from 2014 won't be returning in 2015, giving some offensive coordinators extra work to do this year.

But fear not OCs and QBs, the league is still stocked with running back talent that should be able to carry some of those offenses still looking for stability at quarterback.

It sounds redundant, but 2015 really could be the "Year of the Running Back." And this group of running backs is on the younger side, but that shouldn't matter. Freshmen running backs took the league by storm last season, and unfortunately for SEC defenses, those kids are only going to get better.

[+] EnlargeNick Chubb
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsNick Chubb rushed for 1,547 yards and 14 TDs last season, despite making just eight starts.
Six of the top-10 statistical running backs return in 2015, and all of them have the capability of making up for some quarterback deficiencies their teams might have.

The four schools that immediately come to mind are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and LSU. T.J. Yeldon might be gone at Alabama, but the Crimson Tide will be in very good hands with rising junior Derrick Henry taking over as the lead back. Henry and Yeldon shared the carries in 2014, with Henry leading the way with 990 rushing yards. The return of Kenyan Drake will add another dimension to Alabama's running game, but Henry is a special talent, and with Alabama breaking in a new quarterback, a restructured offensive line and a young group of receivers, Henry will have plenty of opportunities to shine.

Leading the charge of the running back revolution is rising sophomore Nick Chubb, who will be the center of attention in Georgia's offense while the Bulldogs look for a quarterback. You think that's an issue for Chubb? All he did was rank second in the SEC in rushing (1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns) after making just eight starts last season. He was thrust into the starting role after star running back Todd Gurley was suspended by the NCAA for four games and then tore his ACL in his late-season return.

That led to Chubb running over, around and through so many unfortunate defenders. In those eight starts, he never dipped below 100 rushing yards and averaged 165.4 per game. Like Gurley, Chubb just runs on another level and appears to either be from another planet or constructed in a lab hidden in the Mojave Desert. The Bulldogs bring back solid talent around Chubb, but let's face it, if new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer isn't routinely handing the rock to Chubb, something just isn't right.

About 600 miles southwest of Chubb is his position rival for the next two years: LSU's Leonard Fournette. Another manchild who roughed up plenty of defenders this past season (so, so sorry Aggies), Fournette will have to carry the load for the Tigers in 2015, because we just don't know what to expect from the quarterback position. He needed some time to feel comfortable, but when he did, he made his opponents suffer, finishing the season with 1,034 and 10 touchdowns.

Then, there is Arkansas, which has the SEC's best running back duo in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. Both rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, and with Brandon Allen still needing to find his way at quarterback, those two will be relied upon again in 2015. And why not? Coach Bret Bielema wants to pound his opponents into submission anyway, and those two have done it well for the past two seasons.

And just for the heck of it, Tennessee's Jalen Hurd will rush for 1,000 yards, even with talented quarterback Joshua Dobbs under center.

Here are some other running backs who might have to push their quarterbacks:

Kelvin Taylor/Adam Lane Jr., Florida: With new coach Jim McElwain installing yet another offense in Gainesville, the Gators have yet another quarterback battle on their hands. The good news is that Taylor and Lane have the potential to be a solid duo. Taylor rushed for 565 and six touchdowns as a backup last season, and Lane broke out in Florida's bowl game, rushing for 109 yards and touchdown.

Brandon Wilds, South Carolina: The Gamecocks lose Dylan Thompson at quarterback, and there is a bit of a battle brewing for his replacement. Wilds, who has 1,277 career rushing yards, has been very solid, and should have no trouble taking over as the starter for Mike Davis.

Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt: Another freshman standout in 2014, Webb will have to continue to be Vandy's top offensive weapon in 2015. The quarterback situation was up-and-down last season, and who knows what it will look like this year. Webb rushed for 907 yards and four touchdowns last season.

Russell Hansbrough, Missouri: But the Tigers have veteran Maty Mauk at quarterback! Well, he wasn't exactly consistent last season, and proved to be a liability at times for Mizzou's offense. Hansbrough, on the other hand, rushed for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns in a breakout year. With Marcus Murphy gone, Hansbrough should grab the majority of carries and improve on a very solid first year as a starter.
DALLAS -- It's a sign of the times when you start seeing ground-and-pound Alabama running tempo.

There's a reason one of Will Muschamp's final orders at Florida was to have his team attempt to run more of a spread offense with some tempo. There's a reason Texas A&M and Missouri's offenses have flourished and have a combined record of 56-23 during their first three seasons in the SEC. There's a reason the Mississippi schools have been on the rise. There's a reason Gus Malzahn has had immediate success in two short years as head coach at Auburn.

There's a reason we saw two spread-minded teams -- one incredibly tempo-driven -- with offenses ranked in the top 10 and defenses outside the top four of their own conferences reach the first College Football Playoff National Championship game.

As rugged and as defensive-minded as the SEC has been for years and years, offense is taking over college football, and the SEC -- for the most part -- is trying not to get left behind.

“Any offense is trying to find any advantage against the defense," Oregon running back Royce Freeman said during media day for the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T. "Why wouldn’t you? If it’s tempo or if it’s different personnel, if it’s by the rules, do it.”

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsAlabama's Nick Saban once led a crusade against up-tempo offenses, but employed a little of it himself this past season.
Exactly.

Times are changing in all forms of football. Offense is in and defense is ailing.

In each of the last two seasons, the SEC has had six teams finish the year allowing more than 390 yards per game. From 2008-12, only nine teams allowed more than 390 yards a game. The disintegration of defense is apparent in the SEC, and how long it lasts is unknown. Offense is having a trickle-up effect with high school teams adopting the spread more and more and ramping up the tempo. Running quarterbacks feel like more of a necessity in the sport than a luxury.

Nobody thought the spread would work in the NFL, but the read-option is there to stay (hello, Super Bowl-bound Seattle Seahawks) and even the New England Patriots have been running a version of the spread during the last few years at times.

It's a natural evolution in sports for people to try and find the next best thing. Football is no different. For a while, defenses were stagnant and offenses would shift and motion to create leverage. Now, defenses can move at and before the snap to create temporary advantages and mismatches. So offenses have answered by lining up quicker and snapping the ball faster.

It's in all forms of the sport, but Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, whose Ducks have been perfecting this thing since the Chip Kelly days, believes this offensive fad his school helped create might not be the future of football.

“It’ll cycle though. People that believe in certain things will keep it at their core," Helfrich said. "… There are also certain people who are just experimenting with it, so to speak.”

Cyclical or not, programs are realizing that the current offensive evolution -- or revolution -- is real. Most teams in the SEC implement some form of higher tempo in their offenses. Some are spreading guys out more and finding homes in the shotgun. While it goes against all old-school football mantras, it's something coaches realize is the style of the times, and it's working and it's greatly affecting defenses.

Just look at Alabama. This is a team that dominated college football with a very traditional -- and successful -- offense. But Nick Saban's defenses have struggled with the spread recently. Johnny Manziel and his high-flying Texas A&M Aggies lit up Alabama for an average of 523 yards and 35.5 points in games in 2012 and 2013. Against Auburn and that uptempo Malzahn spread the last two years, Alabama has surrendered 1,023 yards and 78 points.

Alabama went 2-2 in those four games.

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsDan Mullen has turned Mississippi State into a league power with a personnel-based spread offense he helped develop with Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida.
Take it a step further and look at Alabama's two-game losing streak in the postseason where Oklahoma (spread and tempo) and Ohio State (spread) combined to score 87 points and reeled off 966 yards.

Running quarterbacks, spread and tempo have been weaknesses for Saban's defenses, so he added all three to his offense this year and watched Alabama set all sorts of offensive records and average 484.5 yards per game (most during his Alabama tenure) and 36.9 points a contest.

“Three or four years ago, Nick Saban was talking about how he didn’t really like [uptempo offense], and the disadvantages to it," Oregon defensive back Juwaan Williams said. "He’s making the evolution himself.”

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, a week removed from his third national championship victory, began some of the transformation down South by bringing his version of the spread offense from Utah to Florida in 2005. His very personnel-driven philosophy changed as the players did. That's why you saw Florida's 2008 national championship-winning offense look so different from the 2006 one.

And that's why Dan Mullen's spread at Mississippi State looks a little different from the one he helped run as the offensive coordinator at Florida. That's why Hugh Freeze's spread at Ole Miss has some philosophical differences from Mizzou's. That's why Tennessee is now spreading things out more now to go with its tempo with a more mobile quarterback in Joshua Dobbs.

“It’s not system-driven; it’s personnel-based," Meyer said of the spread.

That's why Bret Bielema isn't interested in it at Arkansas. He has his big guys plowing into everyone every chance they get, and he likes it. And that's fine, but as we continue to look around the league, more tempo and more spread is coming. Even new Florida coach Jim McElwain, who was a part of the ground-and-pound Bama philosophy during his time with Saban, would like to inject more tempo in the Gators. Steve Spurrier has even experimented with some tempo at South Carolina.

As we dive into this new playoff thing and football gets faster and faster, the SEC appears for the most part to be ready and adapting. And really, it had better be.

“It seems like every team is trying to conform to that," Ohio State offensive lineman Darryl Baldwin said. "I guess it’s more about scoring points now than playing defense now."

SEC morning links

January, 21, 2015
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1. Here's another kind of story that we occasionally see this time of year -- of the much more pleasant variety than those about transfers and dismissals. Florida tight end Jake McGee tweeted Tuesday that the NCAA granted him a sixth season of eligibility after he broke his leg in the first game of the Gators' 2014 season. Georgia offensive lineman Kolton Houston received similar news about a month ago, less than two years removed from a years-long eligibility case that prevented him from playing during his first three seasons on campus. It's always nice to see the NCAA side with the athletes and give them the opportunity to make full use of their college experience when possible.

2. So maybe Nick Marshall is a defensive back, after all. Since it seemed likely that he would shift from quarterback -- where he starred at Auburn -- to cornerback during the run-up to the NFL draft, it seemed surprising when initial stories had Marshall coming to the Senior Bowl as a quarterback. Marshall cleared things up on Tuesday, however, saying he expects to be a defensive back in the pros after practicing at corner and as a gunner on special teams. When Southeastern Louisiana's Bryan Bennett joined the South team's roster Tuesday, it enabled Marshall to shift to cornerback full-time for this week's practices.

3. He's been rumored to be a front-runner for the San Francisco 49ers' offensive coordinator opening, but Lane Kiffin continues to recruit for Alabama. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said Tuesday at Senior Bowl practice that he couldn't say with certainty that Kiffin would return to his staff next season, but he's “hopeful that will continue.” Kiffin certainly provided a jolt for Alabama's offense last season, helping Blake Sims become one of the nation's most efficient passers and funneling the ball to receiver Amari Cooper enough to solidify his status one of the most coveted prospects in the upcoming NFL draft. Insider. Kiffin predicted during Sugar Bowl week that he would return to Alabama in 2015, but an NFL coordinator job would have to be tempting for the former NFL coach.

Around the SEC

Age is just a number to Steve Spurrier, 69, who said he feels “really good” physically and has dedicated himself to improving South Carolina's performance from its disappointing 2014 campaign.

Former Missouri football player Phil Pitts reportedly stepped down from his position as head coach at Helias High School in Jefferson City, Missouri, to accept a coaching position at Mizzou. Pitts played at Missouri under Gary Pinkel, who is still recruiting Helias' star tight end Hale Hentges, a 2015 Alabama commit.

Tennessee will play its annual Orange and White spring game on April 25.

Louisiana athlete Donte Jackson will announce his pick between LSU and Georgia on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. ET.

Alabama defensive end prospect Prince Tega Wanagho Jr., whose “Coming to America” story we mentioned in Monday's morning links, suffered a serious left leg injury during a basketball game Tuesday night. Wanagho recently emerged as one of the nation's hottest football prospects by flashing a rare combination of size and athleticism in his first year playing football after moving to the U.S. from Nigeria.

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Former SEC players in Pro Bowl

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
12:00
PM ET
With the NFL teasing us by putting the Pro Bowl a week before the Super Bowl, we are forced to wait even longer before watching the biggest game of them all.

Is the Pro Bowl a worthy compromise in between conference championships and Super Sunday? Well, that's very much up for debate, but it is football. And if it's football, we'll try to figure out a way to interject some SECness into it because, you know, SEC bias and all.

But like we did with the Super Bowl on Monday, we're going to see who will be representing SEC teams in this year's Pro Bowl. And yes, ALL Missouri and Texas A&M players will be included in this. No, some didn't play in the SEC while they were in school, but those schools are there now and those players will count toward the SEC's number. It's just how the world works.

Last year, the SEC had 24 players make Pro Bowl rosters. This year, the league is also represented by 24 players. I mean, it's no shock that the NFL and the SEC go so well together. Just look at the NFL -- past, present and future. SEC players made the cut for every position except defensive end, safety and punter.

Remember, the Pro Bowl now has that funky format in which past NFL greats will draft each team. This year we could see nothing but receivers taken in the first few rounds, as Cris Carter and Michael Irvin are this year's coaches.

Alabama led the SEC with five Pro Bowl selections.

Here are the 24 SEC Pro Bowl representatives:

Quarterback

Peyton Manning, Tennessee (Denver Broncos)

Running back

Arian Foster, Tennessee (Houston Texans)
Mark Ingram, Alabama (New Orleans Saints)

Wide receiver

Julio Jones, Alabama (Atlanta Falcons)
A.J. Green, Georgia (Cincinnati Bengals)
Odell Beckham Jr., LSU (New York Giants)
Jeremy Maclin, Missouri (Philadelphia Eagles)
Randall Cobb, Kentucky (Green Bay Packers)

Tight end

Jason Witten, Tennessee (Dallas Cowboys)
Martellus Bennett, Texas A&M (Chicago Bears)

Offensive tackle

Jason Peters, Arkansas (Philadelphia Eagles)

Center

Maurkice Pouncey, Florida (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Offensive guard

Evan Mathis, Alabama (Philadelphia Eagles)
Mike Pouncey, Florida (Miami Dolphins)

Defensive tackle

Marcell Dareus, Alabama (Buffalo Bills)
Kyle Williams, LSU (Buffalo Bills)
Sheldon Richardson, Missouri (New York Jets)
Geno Atkins, Georgia (Cincinnati Bengals)

Outside linebacker

Von Miller, Texas A&M (Denver Broncos)
Justin Houston, Georgia (Kansas City Chiefs)

Inside linebacker

C.J. Mosley, Alabama (Baltimore Ravens)

Cornerback

Joe Haden, Florida (Cleveland Browns)
Patrick Peterson, LSU (Arizona Cardinals)

Kicker

Cody Parkey, Auburn (Philadelphia Eagles)
One of the biggest success stories in the 2015 recruiting class has been Arkansas with its in-state recruits. The Razorbacks were 10-for-10 on players they had offered in Arkansas, but that changed Sunday when ESPN 300 receiver K.J. Hill backed off his pledge.


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